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Nonprofit sells naming rights to basic items to help poor

Posted December 3, 2013

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— Companies pay millions of dollars for the naming rights to athletic stadiums.

It's a concept that Urban Ministries of Durham is using in an effort to boost public awareness for the programs it offers to help meet the needs of the area's homeless and poor while also raising the necessary financial support to be able to provide those services.

As part of the new online campaign, Names for Change,, people can browse 169 basic items which offer a price that allows them to add their name as support while at the same time learning how each item plays a role in helping someone in need.

A bus pass, for example, "is actually a key" to the doctor's office, to the grocery store or a job interview.

"In fact, many of our clients say bus passes are as precious as gold, which means this bus pass is actually a key that is also a pot of gold sitting at the start of a rainbow that leads to a better future," the website says.

For $14, a visitor can obtain the naming rights and customize an official poster that can be shared on social media.

Other items up for naming include toiletries – such as deodorant and soap – food, baby supplies, bunk beds and furniture.

Jenny Nicholson, associative creative director of Durham-based advertising firm McKinney is responsible for the site and the campaign to raise awareness.

In 2011, she also headed up a similar initiative for Urban Ministries called SPENT, an interactive game about surviving homelessness and poverty.

It's been played 3 million times worldwide.

"(This year), we were trying to decide what we were going to do, and we saw a brand had paid millions of dollars for naming rights to a stadium, and that got us thinking," Nicholson said. "If a brand pays millions for a stadium, what if we ask someone to pay $2 for a can of corn?"

The campaign comes at an important time for Urban Ministries, its executive director, Patrice Nelson, says.

The nonprofit relies heavily on private sector funding. In fact, 80 percent of its $150 million comes from donations.

Nelson says with decreases in public funding, the nonprofit must create innovative ways to find private donations.

So far, Names for Change has raised approximately $12,000.

And just as SPENT educated people about what it’s like to live on the edge of homelessness, Nelson says the latest campaign reminds everyone that being homeless means losing more than just a home.

"It will invite them to become part of UMD through a specific moment of kindness — the moment when a familiar human need like pajamas or baby food or a clean shave is fulfilled," she said. "It’s a simple yet very powerful concept."

Nicholson says it also sends a power message.

"The challenge of ending homelessness feels so big, so overwhelming, that most of us don’t even try," Nicholson said. "With Names for Change, we are showing people that changing lives doesn’t happen with one big effort, but with a million little ones, and that everyone has a part to play."

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